The first round of matches at Euro 2012 have ended, with the Championship living up to everyone’s expectations, and as usual all the group games have proved to be tight and close. Group D is no exception, as tournament favourites France were held to a 1-1 draw by a defensive yet spirited England, while co-hosts Ukraine had to thank veteran striker, Andriy Shevchenko for his two goals that saw them beat Sweden 2-1 in Kiev. Now the focus shifts to the second round of games, as France hope to reach the quarterfinals by getting the better of Ukraine in Donetsk, while Oleg Blokhin’s boys will hope to carry forward the weight of the home nation by continuing their fairytale start to the tournament.
Results in first round
France showed enough quality against England to suggest that Laurent Blanc’s side can be a real force to reckon with, although given the majority of possession they had the French failed to break down an English defence that looked water tight, and determined to hold off the challenge. Yet the French need to improve against Ukraine because despite their 22-match unbeaten streak, the 1984 and 2000 champions have failed to win any of their last seven games at major finals, and in the next two games Les Blues need to add more teeth to their attack to get the better of a high-flying Ukraine and a dangerous Sweden. Karim Benzema needs to boss the defenders around, while Franck Ribery has to be more influential and clinical in the wings. With so much accuracy in passing, France need to convert that into goals.
Ukraine showed no fear in their first match against a battle hardened Sweden, and Oleg Blokhin’s well drilled side came from behind to win 2-1 in Kiev. Andriy Shevchenko is the undisputed leader and hero of a country that is in its first European finals as an independent nation, and the passion in the fans across the country could drive the nation into the second round. With such hunger and passion to succeed, this side could easily put a spanner in the works of France and England.
Champions in 1984 and 2000, the French are looking to restore lost pride after the 2010 World Cup debacle and under Laurent Blanc, they look like a team to be much feared. Unbeaten in 22 matches, the French have a wonderful record in this tournament as they are participating in their sixth consecutive European Championships.
The former Soviet republic nation is appearing in its first European Championships on home soil, although the side came within a few minutes of reaching Euro 2000 after Slovenia scored a last-gasp winner to deny the Ukrainians a spot in the finals. Yet before the break up of the Soviet Union, players from the Ukraine were considered indispensable as the USSR won the inaugural competition in 1960, and were runners-up in 1964, 1972 and 1988. In 1988, the USSR team coached by the legendary Ukrainian Valeriy Lobanovskiy, consisted of players mostly from a fantastic Dynamo Kiev side and the national side was referred to as ‘Dynamo Kiev in disguise’ by the media, with eight of the eleven Kiev players starting in the final against the Netherlands.
Head to Head
France are unbeaten against Ukraine, with the former winning three of the six matches played. In their last encounter in June 2011, the French beat Ukraine 4-1 at the same Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Defence: Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami
Midfield: Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Yann M’vila/Alou Diarra, Yohann Cabaye, Florent Malouda
Forward: Karim Benzema/Olivier Giroud
Goalkeeper: Andriy Pyatov
Defence: Yevhen Selin, Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mikhalik/ Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Oleg Husyev
Midfield: Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Serhiy Nazarenko, Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka
Forward: Andriy Voronin, Andriy Shevchenko
Despite the strong home support for the Ukrainians, the French are far too strong for the likes of Shevchenko and Yarmolenko to handle, and Laurent Blanc’s strategy in addition to their strength in-depth should see Les Blues through. France to win 2-1 in a close game in Donestk.